For single day, Auburn indulges its inner Irish

Authentic Celtic roots not needed to savor corned beef and beer
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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A Greek owner of a New York-style deli with a Japanese name serving Irish fare? Only on St. Patrick’s Day does it make complete sense – and it happened in Auburn on Tuesday. With springy shamrock-shaped head boppers bouncing back and forth on the top of her head and $3.17 corned beef sandwiches flying off the cutting board, Tsuda’s Eatery owner Alexandra Hastings-Carnahan was in full St. Patrick’s Day spirit by late morning. “And I’m Greek,” she said, as honorary Irish took advantage of a price and a meal that honored the land of leprechauns on the emerald isle’s special day. Growing up raised by a single dad, Hastings-Carnahan said she was an integral part of the mealtime planning and always made sure corned beef was out on the table March 17. Now she was making sure customers could find a corned beef meal at a “3-17” price that marked the occasion. “It’s just my way of offering something back to the community,” Hastings-Carnahan said. “I know the economy is tough and I’m always trying to find a reason to celebrate.” You didn’t have to be Irish to be part of the celebration in Auburn – particularly when it came to tucking into some Irish cuisine. Whether it was home-cooked or restaurant-served, fancy or basic, there was a wee bit of something for all Irish taste buds. At the California Club, a couple of doors down from Tsuda’s in Old Town Auburn, volunteer cook Barney Haley was watching over steaming pots of cabbage, potatoes and corned beef that were served free to celebrants at the bar in the late afternoon. Haley, sporting a white beard and head of hair dyed bright green, had an Irish smile in his eyes as he noted his ancestors were once named O’Haley. Since 1990, the electrical contractor has been preparing an Irish meal on St. Patrick’s Day at the venerable “Cali Club.” Haley has a simple explanation for the popularity of a day when the rivers run Kelly green in many cities and non-Irish revelers develop a pronounced brogue as they move further into the day – and perhaps a pint or two of Guinness. It’s all about the people, he said. “It’s because the Irish are fun-loving and happy,” Haley said. “And they love their corned beef, cabbage and beer.” Auburn Alehouse chef Benton Atkisson said he considers St. Patrick’s Day an opportunity to get really creative with some classic Irish fare. The Old Town Alehouse dinner menu reflected his enthusiasm with a special meal that included an Irish egg (a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage, breaded and fried), brisket simmered in Irish red ale, and an ice cream float that replaced root beer with a hearty stout. “It’s like Cinco de Mayo has become,” Atkisson said. “Everybody and everything’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” At Downtown Auburn’s Auburn Drug Co., St. Paddy’s Day offered a chance to highlight an Auburn tradition that goes back more than a century. The Auburn Drug soda fountain was offering Irish sodas – bright green concoctions that use a secret recipe handed down from pharmacist to pharmacist. – for just a dollar. With corned beef and cabbage simmering in the break room, owner Liz Briggs said St. Patrick’s Day has always been a fun time at the Lincoln Way drug store. “I don’t know, I guess it’s just tradition,” she said. “And we’re all party people.” For many Auburn-area residents, it’s a once-a-year chance to break out the crock pot and simmer some corned beef for dinner. Equally important, March 18 is a day to break out the bread and make corned beef sandwiches. Janet Wheatley of Auburn said she was having corned beef and cabbage at home for dinner. “My husband loves it but it’s usually only once a year,” Wheatley said. Wheatley has visited Ireland twice and while she can’t claim Irish blood, proudly admits she makes a mean Irish coffee. “I like the Irish people – they’re party people and down to earth,” she said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at